Blogging about work is not sensible, and I avoid it. This entry involves information about my job, and I'm both reticent to post and keen to, because this is something deathly serious I am dealing with every day.
The number of armed police officers guarding my office building varies from day to day. The highest the security gets is six heavily armed men. These NYPD specials wear thick body armour and UN-style blue helmets. They carry long-barrelled machine guns and small cylinders that look like teargas grenades hang off their belts.
The lowest the security gets is four regular NYPD cops in their regular uniforms, with their regular handguns on their hips. My office building has been searched several times, and there have been days when, despite the cardswipe-access system, all entrants have been asked for ID.
The security boils back to something very much in the international news - The Mohammed Cartoons. I work in a building that also houses the offices of a newspaper that published the cartoons, and there have been threats made against them.
Today is a cop day. Yesterday was a cop day, with a US Marshal and a few heavily armed SWAT style guys around lunchtime. To begin with I was complacent. I thought they weren't necessary. We're in New York! The most heavily anti-terrorist city in the world. After a week of heavily armed guards, I began to get worried on the regular cop days. Are they sufficient?
My worrying got worse. Then one morning I panicked because the doors were propped wide open for painting in the lobby and all four NYPD officers were in the Blimpie restaurant next door. Anyone could have walked in. It was then I realized that after two weeks of guns outside my office, I was scared.
What do I think?
Every religion has items of faith. Every religion has its..administration, if you will. Its establishment. And with that establishment it has the established order, the established wisdom, the established manner of living according to the precepts of that religion. Anything that poses a threat to that establishment is, from the point of view of the establishment, a threat and a violation of that religion.
Within the the religion, those who violate the established way are part of frame of judgement - that of the religion itself.
Even if the establishment believes that all those outside of the religion are, by their exclusion, wrong, those outside should not be judged or retaliated against from within the frame of judgement of which they are not a part.
As I see it, there are two issues that the cartoons have raised:
1. The portrayal of Mohammed in any form is forbidden in Islam. The fact that he was simultaneously caricatured and all of Islam was ridiculed does not help matters.
2. The cartoons asserted, through the use of Mohammed as a figure with a bomb, that all muslims are violent.
As far as No. 1 is concerned, I think that regardless of free speech issues, the cartoons are gravely disrespectful. In this respect the cartoons are insulting, and an apology is rightfully owed to islamic peoples all over the world.
No. 2 is tricky. The media at the moment are portraying the reaction of the muslim world as violent, reactionary, overblown, excessive. But the fact is that the violent protests are being incited by the same sources that the cartoon was intended to attack, and in the manner of their reaction to it have confirmed all of the perceptions the world at large held about their outlook and methods of action, something the cartoonist, however crudely and in a grossly blunt way, was attempting to draw attention to.
There are violent political and religious factions in all nations all over the world, with the possible exclusion of those countries too small or too pleasantly relaxing to sustain them. Through their actions, they claim a greater part of the perceptions of the world than those who are not violent or extreme. But the vast majority are not violent.
Even though we may accept that the majority of muslims would be offended by the portrayal of Mohammed, this doesn't mean that the majority of muslims are currently at home making Molatov Cocktails. That's absurd.
Yes, the cartoons were offensive. Yes the cartoons were a violation of Islamic law. The situation is being worsened by people charging in to defend free speech in reaction to the outrage, by wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the cartoons, supporting the Danish newspaper's decision even after the paper has apologised...
Nothing exists in isolation, and while free speech is a valuable tenet of many modern societies, it cannot stand alone. Free speech should allow you to walk into the UN and say, 'You're all a bunch of bastards.' Diplomacy begs you not to. Free speech allows you to discuss your sexual escapades with your grandparents at a family dinner. The rest of your family begs you not to.
But you should be allowed to! If you restrict, you police, if you police, you control. If you control, you subvert, warp, manipulate, corrupt, oppress.
The newspaper has the right to print whatever it wants. How it should go about that is a matter of opinion.
Right now I've got six cops at my building door standing testament to the fact that somebody has threatened the newspaper in my building with violence. This building is five minutes' walk from the former site of the World Trade Center.
On the free speech v. religious offence issue, my opinion is divided, but for any number of reasons I would not have published those cartoons.